art by Tihomir Tikulin-Tico
The Power of the Cocoon
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The living room had the usual appearance of Christmas aftermath, as though a herd of many-trunked elephants had rushed through, grabbed anything wrapped in paper, ripped the paper off, tossed it on the floor, then stomped on it. The multi-colored twinkly lights on the Christmas tree reflected from scraps of foil paper and the firework bursts of discarded metallic ribbon.
Emma's older sister Alice had carried her new supply of glam clothes and trending devices up to her room. Emma's younger brothers Oliver and Lowell had raced outside with their new Razor electric scooters, leaving the rest of their gifts in staggering stacks by the couch where they had unwrapped them.
Grandma Clare was sitting in the armchair by the fireplace, staring at the torn paper at her feet. Her gifts were tucked neatly into a box on the side table near her chair. She had deployed her knitting needles and was clicking away.
Dad was in the kitchen, frying ham for the afternoon meal. The smell made Emma's stomach growl, despite all the Christmas pancakes she'd eaten before the mad gift-unwrapping scramble of the morning.
Mom, hands on her hips as she stood by the door, looked over the living room and said, "Emma, would you and Gran clean up in here? The cousins are coming in a couple of hours, and I have a lot of things to do before they get here."
"Sure," Emma said.
"Thanks, sweetie." Mom dropped a kiss on Emma's cheek and rushed through the swinging door toward the kitchen.
Emma studied her own stack of gifts. Again this year she hadn't gotten a single thing she'd asked for. She was fifteen. She hadn't gotten what she wanted for Christmas since she'd asked for a Golden Angel Barbie when she was ten. Her favorite Christmas ever.
This year, she had a bunch of useful gifts, including nudges to study from Mom and Dad in the form of educational video games. Ugh. She'd gotten one silvery knit shirt that didn't totally suck. The rest of the gifts were things she'd never use or wear. Even Lowell, her favorite brother, had failed her. He'd bought her a shoot-to-kill video game he would enjoy much more than she would.
Gran put down her knitting needles. "Emma, dear, take your things upstairs and come back down. I've got a secret to show you."
"Oh, boy!" Gran's secrets were the best. Emma took her presents up and dumped them on her bed, then raced back downstairs and pulled a chair over next to Gran's.
"I don't know if you noticed," Gran said, resting her hand on Emma's knee, "but I didn't give you your present yet."
"Oh. No, Gran, I'm sorry. I didn't notice."
"That's fine, dear. I was saving your gift till now. Do you know how special you are?"
Emma felt heat in her cheeks. "You always say that, Gran, but it's not true. Alice is so talented! She has the voice of an angel. Everybody says she should be on American Idol. Lowell is the best at any sport he tries, and Oliver is so smart. I'm the brown bird in a family of peacocks."
Gran patted Emma's knee. "You're the one I teach the secrets to," she said.